31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep: Day 22 – What Should I Title My Novel?

It’s Day 22, and “31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep” is slowly winding to a close. Counting this post, we only have nine more topics to go, plus one week-in-review. How crazy is that?! If you’ve been following along since day one, thanks for being here! If you’re new, you can catch up by reading the other posts in this series here, or by watching the corresponding YouTube videos here.

Today we’re talking about what you should title your novel. A title is the name that you give to your novel, and there are countless options out there. So many options, in fact, that it may feel a bit overwhelming. If you’re like me, then you probably lovingly call your novels things like “Ice Skating Story” or “Untitled Fantasy Novel” until you can actually come up with something good. But a novel is like a baby. You can’t put it out into the world without a real name. Untitled Fantasy Novel probably won’t hit the best-seller list with a title like that.

So then how do you come up with a great title? One that’ll get your novel off of the shelves and into the hands of readers? I think the first step is to understand all of the different types of titles that you can choose from. The first is the title/subtitle combo. This is typically the most popular for genres like fantasy and sci-fi, especially for series in those genres. Some examples of this type of title are:

  • The Caspian Chronicles: The Forbidden Prophecy
  • The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Eighth Grade Bites
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

The second is the one-word title (which is actually my favorite type of title, even though I didn’t use it for The Forbidden Prophecy). Its main draw is that it’s punchy, and easily catches the attention of potential readers. A few examples:

  • Twilight
  • Fangirl
  • Divergent

The third is the super long title. While this title may sound catchy, be warned that it can trip potential readers up and they’ll probably find ways to shorten it when discussing it either online or amongst friends. Examples:

  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

The fourth and final is the typical title. There isn’t really anything special about this title, though that doesn’t make it bad. It’s just your average, run-of-the-mill title. For example:

  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • Thirteen Reasons Why
  • Vampire Academy

Keep in mind that no one type of title is better or worse than another. Once you’ve written your novel, and you really think about how you want the title to represent it, you’ll know which title type is best for you. However, coming up with the content of the title can be a bit trickier. For the title of my soon-to-be-published debut novel, The Caspian Chronicles: The Forbidden Prophecy (which, yes, I did use as an example earlier), the title (The Caspian Chronicles) came to me relatively easily, while the subtitle (The Forbidden Prophecy) was something I waffled over for a while. So, I’ve come up with some things that you can consider when choosing your title.

1.) The main conflict of your story.

This is how I came up with The Forbidden Prophecy‘s title. There’s a prophecy. It’s forbidden. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, the thing was, I was afraid to use the word “prophecy” in my title since prophecies are so cliche in fantasy novels. At the end of the day, though, the forbidden prophecy was the biggest conflict in my novel, and it only made sense to use it, despite its cliche-ness.

When at an absolute loss for what to title your novel, I think this should be your go-to tactic. Sure, coming up with something super thematic or symbolic would be cool, but sometimes simple is the best way to go.

2.) Your protagonist’s name (or the name of a significant character).

The Caspian Chronicles. Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone. Jane Eyre. Oliver Twist. Matilda. Character names can make a great addition to a title, or they can make up the entire title. The best thing about it is that it automatically introduces the reader to the main character or to an important character. It piques their interest and urges them to read the book to find out who this mysterious name belongs to.

3.) A recurring theme or symbol in your novel.

For example, Thirteen Reasons Why is titled as such because that’s a recurring theme. There were thirteen reasons why Hannah Baker committed suicide. This is a lot of authors’ favorite type of title, it seems, and from what I’ve seen it can be very effective, especially when the title is vague. It leaves the potential reader wondering what it means, and it can urge them to read the novel to find out.

4.) A word that encompasses the overarching tone of your novel.

I think we all know what I’m going to use as an example here: Twilight. I mean, the word “twilight” really has nothing to do with the novel. Edward Cullen says it once, but that doesn’t really make it title material. What does make it title material, though, is that it projects a certain tone over the rest of the novel. Twilight. It leaves you thinking things like, “Dark. Can be spooky or romantic.”

5.) Something that summarizes a major element of your novel.

Richelle Mead’s titles do this really well. Vampire Academy. Frostbite. Shadow Kiss. Etc. One or two words that hold a whole lot of meaning, but not because it’s a major conflict or has anything to do with the theme. Instead, it’s more like a setup. It says, “This is what you should expect coming into this novel.” Vampire Academy? Yeah, there’s vampires. They go to an academy. Frostbite? It takes place in winter and that plays a pretty big role in the story. So on and so forth.

Try to come up with a list of possible titles, and then narrow it down from there. It’s better to have too many choices than too few. Plus, it’s sort of like photography. It can take up to a hundred tries to come out with one good picture (or, in this case, title). And if you have a few title options that you really like and you can’t choose, or if you don’t know if the title you’ve chosen is right for your novel, ask your beta readers! Telling you what does or doesn’t work from a reader’s perspective is their job, after all!

Once you think you’ve chosen a title for your novel, make sure you Google said title to make sure that it hasn’t already been taken by someone else. I mean, technically there isn’t anything wrong with having the same title as another book–titles themselves can’t be copyrighted–but when somebody searches your novel title, you want to be the first thing that shows up. And if you decide to title your novel Twilight, nobody is ever going to know that your novel even exists.

Try your hardest not to get too wrapped up in your novel’s title, though. I mean, it’s important, sure, but even more important is the content of your novel. So long as you can come up with a decent title that at least manages to catch a reader’s attention, your writing should do the rest of the heavy lifting.

And that’s all for today, folks! If you liked this post and thought it was helpful, then check back in tomorrow for Day 23, which will be about editing your own work. I know, I know, self editing isn’t very fun, but you’ve gotta do it. Your writing will be all the better for it.

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